Should JAMAICA Carnival stick to Jamaican culture and music?


So twice in the last few days I’ve gotten into a fairly lengthy discussions as to whether or not “Jamaica Carnival” should represent Jamaican culture. So, let’s discuss…

What do I mean by “Jamaican Culture”

As it stands right now, Jamaica Carnival is a small extract of Trinidad Carnival. We play the same music, dress up in similar costumes, maintain the same general format and even have similar ‘fetes’ around the event. For the most part Reggae, Dancehall, and anything which would identify carnival as Jamaican is missing.

What does carnival actually even mean?!

I think, at least in my opinion, as it stands now, carnival for Jamaicans is simply a reason to let loose and be free in a way that’s not possible at any other point during the year. Unlike in Trinidad and other countries where Carnival where is deeply linked to their culture and symbolizes quite a bit, for us in it’s current form Jamaica Carnival is just a grand party. Now, there’s nothing wrong with that at all (I quite enjoy it!), but, has it ALWAYS been like that?

The difference in music

In one of the conversations ,one of the gentlemen tried to express to me how wonderful it would be to have a carnival with people reveling in the streets to the sounds of Dancehall as opposed to what is mostly ‘imported’ soca music. After all, Jamaica is the home of Dancehall, so why should JAMAICA carnival not feature primarily dancehall music? It most certainly isn’t that we don’t have enough music to last.

This point got me thinking. Thinking a lot. Anybody that knows me now knows I love Soca music. It’s happy music. It’s dance till your feet hurt music. It’s music that makes you just want to have fun. While, I love Dancehall music as well, I think the lyrical content, and vibe of the music is very different. For some reason it doesn’t make me want to let loose quite as much as soca music does. Before anyone jumps to the conclusion that this is just because I haven’t actually experienced a road march with dancehall, I want to assure you that I have an idea of what it would be like. While I may never have witnessed a road march with exclusively dancehall, at both UWI Carnival & for extended parts of the main Jamaica Carnival, they do play Dancehall. For me, at those points, the vibe changes. It’s not to say it’s bad, because it isn’t. But, it doesn’t feel as carefree and light hearted.

Another major difference in the music and what I consider to be a major hurdle is the fact that Dancehall artistes currently don’t do ‘dancehall carnival songs’. It’s every soca artistes dream to have their song blaring from all the music trucks during the road march and as people cross the stage in Trinidad. In Jamaica however, our artistes don’t even so much as bat an eye at Jamaica Carnival. In fact the few that care about ‘Carnival’ do soca songs! This may just be a symptom of the fact that currently Jamaica Carnival is so soca based that there is little incentive to do a Dancehall Carnival songs. But, whatever the reason, the fact is right now, our musicans don’t care enough about supporting Carnival to create the dancehall music to support Carnival.

Running fast is in or DNA, Carnival Isn’t

I’m way too young (I like to think so anyway) to really remember what Carnival WAS like decades ago. But I get the impression that Carnival was for the most part something that was ‘imported’ into Jamaica, rather than something that is built in to our culture. I Think this is also a major contributing factor in why Dancehall and reggae aren’t the feature attractions in Jamaica carnival. For Trinis carnival isn’t ‘just a thing’.. Carnival IS THE thing. Trinis look forward to Carnival from Ash Wednesday the year before. They look forward to the band launches, song releases, costume reveals and everything else. For them, Carnival is an industry with costumer designers striving to outdo themselves each year and bands trying to do anything and everything to make each year bigger and better. Some may say Carnival is a way of life in Trinidad. For Jamaicans, most people look at Jamaica carnival as something they may or may not do, with no qualms about waiting till the very last minute to decide. It’s just not a centerpiece in Jamaican life and culture.

I’m still conflicted

While I LOVE the idea of a Carnival that celebrates Jamaican music and culture, it would require so much that I’m not sure that it would/could happen. It would require government support, artist support, private sector support and so much more. As it stands right now, I’m not sure it will ever get all of that support at once!

On the flip side, I love my carnival the way it is now. I LOVE having something to look forward to after I leave Trinidad Carnival. I love the opportunity to party to soca music in my home country. Because truth be told, here in Jamaica, hearing soca on the radio much less for an extended period at a party outside of Carnival season is a VERY rare treat! To add to all that, I’m not too sure I’d want to be chipping down the road, in my bright red costume, listening to Vybz Kartel….


Thanks to Dwayne Watkins (Jamaica’s Greatest Photographer!) and Norman Chen for the great photos

So what do you think? Why doesn’t Jamaica Carnival capture Jamaican culture? Would you even want that?

11 thoughts on “Should JAMAICA Carnival stick to Jamaican culture and music?

  • April 20, 2012 at 12:58 pm

    I’ve visited Jamaica, but not during carnival. But I’ve been to a few north American carnivals. I think carnival over time adapts to reflect the people who are participating. Carnival is dynamic and will adapt to mirror its society. In Toronto, there have been trucks playing dance hall or hip hop, and you are correct, it absolutely changes the vibes, but it mirrors a big segment of our population. We went to Washington and there were large Haitian and Nigerian bands both playing their music and it was interesting to see how carnival reflects different peoples. Over time I imagine dancehall will play a bigger part.

  • April 20, 2012 at 2:32 pm

    What I honestly think should be done to make Carnival Jamaican is NOT to have Carnival but to have Junkanoo around the Christmas time, Jamaica’s original “Carnival”. There will still be the Traditional old Junkanoo mas with pitchy patchy, belly woman, The devil, the dame Lorannes ect…., but behind the old mas characters will be revelers, thier bands and sections where people and jump up wearing thier frightning Junkanoo masks and costumes, mud, paint ect…. and let loose (sort of like the Grenadian Jab Jab ting but different at the same time) Then there will be Junkanoo second day(Sort of like Carnival monday and then Carnival tuesday) where it will be Junkanoo Pretty mas where people come in thier fanciest costumes for the Roadmarch (sort of like Trinidad, but the costumes will have more of a Jamaican style sort of looking like the Bahamas Junkanoo costumes). As for music, Dancehall artists should produce Junkanoo music, whats Junkanoo music? Well Junkanoo music Well Junkanoo music can be like drumline music fused with Reggea/Dancehall music to create Junkanoo music (and I know for a sure ting that Jamaica has some Pretty good drumline groups. And also these Junkanoo Chunes could also be made in studios and put out by Dancehall artists like Beenie Man, Popcaan, Vybz kartel, Movado, Aidonia, Tony Matterhorn, Mr. Vagas etc…. and these song can be released during the “Junkanoo Season” and then Jamaica will Truely have its own “Carnival” and “Carnival Season”.

  • April 22, 2012 at 11:01 am

    Great Insight and i like all the points brought forward for us it has always been a fusion of the Spectale, Vibe and Color Trini Carnival with our Jamaican dancehall culture. We are South Coast Carnival.

  • April 25, 2012 at 5:16 pm

    I agree wholeheartedly with what you have expressed, and I too was fielding discussions about Jamaica Carnival in the few days after Carnival Day.
    Now, unfortunately, Jamaica has lost her culture- in that, we import everything that is popular in other countries for our own, just to have some vibes. Jamaicans seem to have forgotten how great Jonkunno was back in the day. All we have now are “Festival” entries that few people pay attention to. When last you see a line pf people clamouring to get into the National Arena to watch the National Song Festival finals/ dances etc?
    No, but we pay exorbitantly for Hallowe’en parties, we search through bushes for Easter eggs and chocolates, and we palance and advantage the road Trini style. I absolutely love carnival, and the freedom and happiness I feel when surrounded by the Soca. But not everyone who participates in Jamaica Carnival feels the same: they see it as a great party to wine on nuff woman. OK, fine, wadeva- I will enjoy it for me own reasons. But still, Jamaica Carnival is not about Jamaica Carnival.

    And I do not think there should be a Dancehall Carnival… let’s leave it at PassaPassa and such. I agree with Elijah Woolley– if we trying to resuscitate anything, it should be Jonkunno…..

    I could wax poetic on this subject, but I seem to have ADD and I know people don’t like reading epistles, and I should get back to my work…
    But, I am hoping that Andrew Bellamy and his I Love Soca Committee will be able to hold their own next year carnival season! I do believe that they can change around the carnival scene in Jamaica, and make it great!!

  • April 26, 2012 at 3:05 am

    This is a non-issue and not even worth addressing, but since you brought forth the thread, I will address! How many days we have in a year ? Ok, so Carnival is one day, other Soca events relating to Baccanal Jamaica is at the most 7 events, Beach Jouvert , Jouvert, etc . so are that shallow where we can’t have a soca events for a few days….you acting as if all of JA is now on the same page…..that is embracing soca, far from it, so this is a non-issue for the masses…I say leave it 100% soca for the few events, there are endless, and I do mean endless Dancehall events, plus , I am sure 100% of the Jamaicans who are supporting these events ( soca) don’t want the Badman, slack lyrics in we Ting…….furthermore re : Culture, which adult who not part of the industry supporting the current state of Dancehall and that slackness ? few if any .

    Who in the right mind want culture of Jamaica to be about Badman ting , Badman lyrics, etc…we are deeper and more culturally than that…look it up, someone said it…We in this Ting from the 1800s……Jonkunno….do yuh research…we been palancing in the streets of Kingston for a few centuries already !


  • April 26, 2012 at 4:17 pm

    PS> To add to my already long post— In addition to Island Mas, there is also Gems Jamaica, and Soca Republic… and all are poised to do big things for Jamaica Carnival season– not only Road march day, but the entire season of fetes…

  • April 26, 2012 at 4:49 pm

    Don’t forget the “Tailwind” and “Soca Vs Dancehall” teams! All in all I’d say there are a handful of young(er) people who are trying to grow Carnival in Jamaica to what we think it should be. Now, the truth is it will likely still be VERY soca based and as I’ve pointed out above I’m perfectly fine with this. It’s the only time of year here in Jamaica that we get to ENJOY soca.

    I think Carnival is actually dying a slow death here in Jamaica and would benefit greatly from new blood, new ideas and the energy that a lot of these younger teams bring to the table…. but that’s another long post..

    Maybe I should go write that now?

  • April 27, 2012 at 9:39 pm

    No! I wont forget the Soca vs. Dancehall team 🙂 …
    Tailwind I haven’t quite wrapped my head around yet :-s

    But yes, Carnival is dying slowly (not only because it has evolved from what it was originally). But worse, because it is not *our* festival, the Jamaican mindset is “Oh well, let it go… what is the “next big thing” that we can import and have the masses jump onto the bandwagon with…”

  • June 4, 2013 at 9:52 am

    Wickid idea Bredren, mi like it.

  • June 4, 2013 at 10:04 am

    Yuh might have taken the article a likkle outta context Bredda. I think the purpose wasn’t so much to say that dancehall should definitely be added to Jamaica Carnival as it is to note that Jamaica Carnival as it stands is really not a Jamaica Carnival. But I will say this, I agree with you that if dancehall is to be implemented, what we currently pass as dancehall these days is completely unacceptable. The best idea I hear so far is to uplift and promote Jonkonnu back to the status it was once at and beyond.

  • March 7, 2014 at 11:42 am

    i think its good to celebrate carnival with a twist of another culture, if we had carnival based on reggae dancehall instead, it would be like a normal street party or club, hearing what we hear week in week out… soca is a specialist music, seasonal music, meaning its made exclusive with the upcoming carnivals in mind, … it also broaden the minds of the people culturally, & musically.. and boost local tourism as i know people fly down for carnival in Jamaica, even if its for 1 week out of the year, its something different… maybe Jamaica should celebrate reggae/dancehall as well as traditional carnival, not instead of.

    my thoughts, nice article tho.

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